When she is not dispensing advice, senior Qiana Nelson is soaring over her opponents

By Gus Bode

Herschel Nelson always preached the value of leg strength to his daughter. When she was little he encouraged her to do anything she could to strengthen her calves – be it riding a bike, competing on the Kankakee Junior High School double dutch and track teams or jumping rope with weights tied to her ankles.

And it paid huge dividends.

The result of Herschel’s calf fixation was a woman who stands only 5 feet 7 inches tall but can still get her knuckles over the top of a basketball rim and her knees above the bottom tape of a volleyball net.


SIU senior outside hitter Qiana Nelson possesses a mind-bending 31-inch vertical leap, which, along with her incredible speed, has been key in helping the Saluki volleyball team achieve its first 20-win season since 1986.

Don’t expect her to tell you that, though. Nelson, a reserved and, on the surface, serious person, is not the boasting type. But she does not need to be. Her teammates and coach do it for her.

“She’s been one of our most consistent players all year round,” said senior outside hitter Kristie Kemner. “The numbers don’t necessarily show it, but she’s gotten us out of games and won games like you wouldn’t believe. I think she’s been the silent hero this year.”

There is no statistic for game-saving digs or general heroism, but Nelson has put up some impressive numbers nonetheless.

Nelson is third on the team with 252 kills behind Kemner, a preseason MVC All-Conference pick, and Lindsey Schultz, a possible postseason all-conference selection. She has also dug 292 balls this year, second on the team behind Kemner, the all-time Saluki digs leader.

Her speed has been invaluable as well, especially against taller teams such as Southwest Missouri State, which will visit Davies Gymnasium Friday at 7 p.m. The Salukis need to beat the Bears to the net to have a chance at penetrating their defense, and Nelson has the perfect tools to do it.

“I can set her a faster tempo set because she has a great first two steps,” said junior setter Britten Follett. “She just has an awesome approach, and I can set a faster tempo because she can get there faster. You just put it up there, and she contacts it so high that it’s over the block.”


Nelson’s speed and springs have been a great asset to SIU volleyball but are only a small part of her contribution to her teammates. To the Salukis, she is a mother as well as a teammate.

The team, including Nelson’s fellow seniors, call her “Mamma Qi,” a term of endearment that references her above-average maturity and motherly tendencies.

When the team needs to lift weights at 6 a.m., Nelson drags the stragglers out of bed. When team members need advice, they seek Nelson’s counsel. And when freshmen such as Marissa Washington need to know where to be on the court and what not to do off it, she is there with answers – and a role model.

Nelson gives advice when it is needed, but said she prefers to lead by example.

“They need somebody to help guide them and I want to be the person to help guide them,” Nelson said. “If they see I am interested in helping them move forward they will respect me a lot more and maybe it will make them a better player.

“But I would rather not talk and say what I’m going to do; I’d rather show them. Talk doesn’t mean anything if you don’t get it done.”

Even the team’s seniors come to Nelson with their problems and admit her knowledge of life greatly exceeds theirs.

“She has got it together,” Kemner said. “If there’s anyone on this team that has everything in order … she just knows right from wrong and tells it like it is. She just seems more grown up than the rest of us.”

Nelson’s maturity has been key to her success at SIU, as she never wavered under the stresses of being a student-athlete. She carries a 3.42 grade point average in business management and is waiting on a response from Target regarding a January business management internship. If that does not work out, she will apply to graduate school in hopes of earning her master’s degree.

Despite this, she is still posting career highs in kills, digs, and attack percentage.

“She’s very serious about wanting to be good,” said head coach Sonya Locke. “She’s serious about wanting to be successful at what it is she’s studying. She’s a good student; she always has been. She’s trustworthy. She’s pretty much almost everything you would want in a player.”

Reporter Michael Brenner can be reached at [email protected]